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The (real) Good Doctor: Meet the Duke neurosurgeon behind hit shows' medical stories

Ever wonder if the medical situations on hit television shows are accurate? 

It's Professor of Neurosurgery Oren Gottfried's job to make sure it is on shows like "Elementary," "The Good Doctor" and "Chicago Med." Gottfried is a professor at the Duke University School of Medicine who not only specializes in spinal diseases, but also serves as a medical consultant for popular television shows. 

Since 2010, Gottfried said he has been involved with more than 30 different shows. Gottfried said he enjoys the creative outlet that the job provides and the chance to educate viewers. 

“Some of these shows have ten million people watching them every week, and I think it’s kind of nice to be able to tell a medical story," Gottfried said. "I feel like I’m not just a professor at Duke, I’m also educating audiences with my knowledge and creativity."

Gottfried first became involved in the field of medical consulting after he was contacted by a School of Medicine graduate who had become involved in producing a new television show in Los Angeles. 

“I received a phone call in 2010 to help with a pilot script and I found that the work was interesting,” Gottfried said. “The person who involved me in that project began to involve me in other projects, and eventually I built a network.”

Through his career as a medical consultant, Gottfried has taken on a variety of different roles.

“Each particular show has a different assignment. Some projects need story ideas, so I think of an interesting story idea and I pitch it," he said. "Other times, I’m working in collaboration with a group of writers to help them develop a story that they thought of and helping them make it as medically feasible as possible. I would say that at any level, I can intervene and help.”

Gottfried added that part of what he enjoys about the job is that he does not work in a vacuum. When there is a medical topic that he must learn about, Gottfried often turns to his colleagues at Duke for advice.

“I have a list of over fifty doctors at Duke and I go to them to help me with these projects," he explained. "So when I have an interesting TV story, I don’t just type in a Google search—I actually go to my expert in this field and get first-hand knowledge.”

However, Gottfried also spoke to the difficulties of being a medical consultant.

“The hardest part is that I value what the writers and producers have put into their stories, and I never want to ruin a story with medical details, medical jargon or medical complexity," he said. "I want to make the medicine as close as humanly possible to reality, while honoring their story. I can’t work in the technical world, I have to work in a creative world that honors the technical world.”


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